Anybody who tries to be present for any length of time will eventually come to this thought: ‘If I could only increase my desire to be present, I could be present more often.’ But the question of how to increase the desire to be present is complicated. It is complicated because we are not unified. Our inner psychology contains different ‘I’s’ or parts. These parts include essence and personality and the three different functions: the mind, the body, and the emotional center. As we all know different thoughts, emotions, desires, and perceptions can be uppermost in us for a short time and then be replaced by other ‘I’s’. A feeling of greed may be replaced by thoughts about sex, which may be replaced by a feeling of remorse, which may be replaced by a desire to be present, and so on. The reason that our desire to be present is periodic is because it is based on the understanding that we do not ordinarily possess full self consciousness and that understanding can only be realized by certain highest parts of our lower functions.
At first the problem of the periodicity of our efforts seems impossible to solve because the idea is that the way to increase our desire to awaken higher centers is to realize that we are asleep, and the way to realize that we are asleep is to awaken higher centers. In other words the way to increase your desire to be present is to be present. And though you will probably admit that this is true, you will probably also feel that it isn’t much help.
This is how one of Ouspensky’s students put it to him:
When we ask how to be less mechanical, we are told to be more awake. When we ask how to wake up, the answer is not to identify, and when we ask how not to identify, the answer is to self-remember. This seems to be a circle, each method being a counterpart of the other. ~ The Fourth Way
The good news is that the desire to be present is not a mandatory first step to being present. If you can make the effort to be present when you have no desire to be present, that effort will be more valuable than an effort made from desire. In order to understand this you need to think about consciousness and desire in a certain way. If you have no desire to be present, it means that there is nothing in your functions that wants to be present. But consciousness is outside of functions. It is separate from functions. What this means is that, if you can make an effort that is not motivated by desire, that effort will have to come directly from consciousness, or, more precisely, it will have to come from the aspect of consciousness that we call will.
It is necessary to understand that man’s consciousness and man’s functions are quite different phenomena, of quite different nature and depending on different causes and that one can exist without the other. Functions can exist without consciousness and consciousness can exist without functions. ~ Ouspensky
Many esoteric teachings include practices where the student is taught to make efforts that have no visible or physical results. For instance there are stories in Zen practice where a student is instructed to build a hut, stone by stone, and then when the hut is finished, to take it apart stone by stone. The reason behind this kind of practice is to accustom the student’s mind to making efforts that do not satisfy the desires of the lower functions.
Efforts to be present made directly from will may seem impossible at the beginning. This is so because at first it is difficult just to remember to be present. The fact is that much of the time we simply forget. In the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky system the remembering aspect of the first conscious shock, which is the centerpiece of conscious evolution, was thought to be so important by Gurdjieff that he called the main effort of his work self-remembering. The emphasis is on remembering; you are remembering to make the effort to create the self, which is normally absent.
In the prologue to Life is real only then when ‘I Am’ Gurdjieff describes how he wore reminders in order to ‘remember himself during the normal process of ordinary life.’
Though in my past life I had tried everything, even had worn reminding factors of all kinds on my person, nothing helped. Perhaps these did help a little while I carried them on me, but if so it was only at the beginning, as soon as I stopped carrying them or became used to them, in a moment it was all as before. ~ G. I. Gurdjieff
Placing reminders to remember yourself on your person or in your environment can be very effective for a time. It can be something quite simple; for instance, if you wear a watch on your left wrist, you can move it to your right wrist. Then when you look at the time, you will have a moment of recognition. You will notice that your watch is on your right wrist and remember that you changed it in order to remind yourself about inner effort. But it doesn’t last very long—a couple of days at most—because you very quickly get used to the new arrangement. I have known some people who have been quite inventive in this practice. Years ago I had a friend who did research at a major European university in mathematics. His job involved sitting all day in an office and thinking and staring at complex equations on a computer screen. In order to remind himself to be present, he wrote a little program that ran on his computer. At random intervals his program displayed a message on his screen, reminding him about his aim to be present.
‘The normal process of ordinary life’ that Gurdjieff talks about refers to the idea that it is relatively easy to remember yourself, or to be present, when you are sitting comfortably in a chair talking to a friend about esoteric ideas, but that it is far more difficult to be present while going about your life. There are many reasons for this, but if I had to pick out two primary reasons, I would say that they are identification and imagination. If your wife or husband yells at you, or if you spill your coffee, you identify. You concentrate on what happened (in the past) and go over it again and again in your mind. Perhaps you justify your actions to yourself or become angry or embarrassed. But in all this you forget yourself; you forget that you want to remember yourself. And it doesn’t have to be a negative event; it can be a positive event as well. It can be something quite innocent: a man or a woman that you like smiles at you and you identify with how you feel and begin to imagine talking to him or her at a future time.
This problem of how to remember led Gurdjieff to the conclusion that he needed to find one ‘never-sleeping-regulating-factor.’
Namely a factor which would remind me always, and in every common state, to remember myself. ~ Gurdjieff
And by some remarkable associations about God and the creation of the world, Gurdjieff ‘reasons:’
He is God and I am God! Whatever possibilities He has in relation to the presence of the universe, such possibilities and impossibilities I should also have in relation to the world subordinate to me. ~ Gurdjieff
He realizes that in the same way that God was compelled to banish his most beloved son, the devil, he, Gurdjieff, must sacrifice some aspect of his inner world that is, by him, equally beloved. In the end he chose to deprive himself of the use of his psychic powers (telepathy and hypnotism). He decided that only this sacrifice would be felt strongly enough to give him a permanent reminder.
Characteristically Gurdjieff doesn’t reveal how successful his sacrifice was or how long he deprived himself of the use of his powers.
As for us: in the long run we don’t want to have our reminders to remember ourselves coming from the outside; we want to create and encourage inner motivations. For a long time we need to depend on the emotional center. Because really it is our emotions—how we feel about our lives and about ourselves—that determine our valuation to make effort. But at some point in our work, when the physical body becomes sufficiently saturated with the material of conscious attention, the energy of higher centers becomes a reminding factor. This is a little difficult to describe—it really has to be experienced to be understood. Perhaps one way to say it is that eventually our efforts have so much mass behind them that they automatically bring the energy of higher centers to bear on the ‘normal process’ of our ordinary lives.